Ingredients for Heart Health

Processors are formulating-out fat and sodium and working in legumes, whole grains, soluble fiber and omega-3s.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Heart smallFollowing a healthy diet and lifestyle are good weapons in the fight against cardiovascular disease, and they're becoming easier to follow. A report from the American Heart Assn. (, Dallas, indicates the amount of products labeled vegetarian and vegan, which it says are better for the heart, are increasing in the market.

People with a low incidence of coronary heart disease tend to have low blood cholesterol levels and also tend to have diets not only low in total fat but relatively high in plant foods that contain dietary fiber, notes the FDA. This might be why global launches of vegetarian foods and beverage shot up 60 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to figures from Innova Market Insights.

Studies show vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some forms of cancer, the AMA adds. The caveat is that vegetarians and vegans often must find other sources of essential nutrients -- such as iron, magnesium, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, potassium and calcium – that are plentiful in animal foods, the association points out.

Beans, whole grains, soluble fiber and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of stroke by keeping cholesterol from forming plaque buildup in the arteries, the AMA says. Oatmeal can lower plaque’s ability to form clots that can cause blockages. Whole-grain cereals (like Cheerios) can help reduce cholesterol, and foods containing potassium, calcium and magnesium can lower blood pressure, which can reduce strain on the blood vessels and inflammation.

Ingredients made from fiber- and protein-rich pulses provide nutrients and minerals like iron and zinc while also being good for the heart. Pulses can help lower cholesterol and control diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) − conditions that can lead to heart disease, says John Sievenpiper, associate professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. Sievenpiper's research and review of studies also find that eating pulses can help in satiety and help people lose weight.

Ingredion (, Westchester, Ill., which produces pulse proteins and flours, says pulses are "nutritional powerhouses," high in dietary fiber and protein and rich in micronutrients. Its Homecraft clean-tasting pulse flours and Vitessence pulse protein-based products can add protein and fiber to cereals and snacks, and are said to be more cost-effective than some animal-based proteins.

Yogurt is also getting the heart-smart green light. Studies reveal eating yogurt is linked to having healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. According to research noted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Compared with nonconsumers, yogurt consumers appear to have better metabolic profile, such as a lower body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, levels of triglycerides, fasting glucose and insulin and blood pressure but higher HDL [good] cholesterol. When you weigh less, your heart stays healthier, because it doesn't need to work as hard to carry and nourish your body," the research notes. "The lower your weight, the lower your risk of heart disease."

Cutting the fat

A high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fatty acids raise the "bad" LDLs and lower the "good" HDLs.

"The FDA’s action in June to eliminate trans fat will help prevent cardiovascular disease and save lives," points out AMA president Steven J. Stack. "We commend the FDA for its decision to remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) by 2018. PHOs are the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods."

Companies that make snacks, margarine and creamers, baked goods and refrigerated doughs have been eliminating PHOs and other trans-fats from their formulations for several years. ConAgra, for example, says it began removing trans fats from its microwave popcorn in 2013; Orville Redenbacher popcorn contains no trans fats per serving. General Mills, which owns Betty Crocker and Bisquick, says it labels more than 95 percent of its products as having 0g trans fat, and is eliminating trans fats from many other products.

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